Audience ruling results in uproar

EMPLOYED solicitors from the CPS and the commercial sector have expressed dismay at Lord Mackay and the four senior designated judges' decision to severely restrict higher court rights of audience for employed solicitors.

Last week Mackay and the four judges ruled that employed solicitors could only appear in the High Court and Crown Courts for preliminary hearings, six years after the Law Society originally submitted its application for audience rights to be extended.

They also maintained the ban on local authority lawyers from handling care proceedings.

In 1995, the Law Society threatened to take legal action against the Lord Chancellor if its application was refused. But last week a spokesman would only say that the society was examining its options.

He added: “This decision gives the impression that solicitors cannot be trusted to advocate in the higher courts.”

Kevin Goodwin, convenor of the CPS section of the Association of First Division Civil Servants, said the division was disappointed by the decision. He also attacked the CPS' official response to the decision as “an insult” to its staff.

In a brief statement, Dame Barbara Mills QC, Director of Public Prosecutions, said she “welcomed” the lifting of some audience restrictions.

Julian Collins, the former chair of the Law Society's Commerce and Industry Group, who helped draw up the society's application, was also “very disappointed” by the announcement. But he added that it was a “tiny, but significant, step forward”.

The decision , which is being seen as a victory for the Bar Council, is a major setback for the employed Bar, which has been campaigning for the restrictions governing its members to be lifted. There is also concern at the junior criminal Bar that the decision to allow CPS lawyers to handle preliminary Crown Court proceedings will deprive them of a major source of their income.